An article posted to several newsgroups and bulletin boards in answer to queries about Waitangi Day - 6 February 1999


The Treaty of Waitangi ( ) was signed between the Chiefs of the Maori Tribes of New Zealand and William Hobson (on behalf of Queen Victoria) on 6th February 1840 at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands in Northland, and it has come to be celebrated as New Zealand's national day.

In brief the treaty guarantees the preservation of the tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty) of the chiefs over their lands people and resources, cedes to the British Crown kawanatanga (governance), and grants the Chiefs and their tribes the rights and privileges of British subjects. It is not a simple as that though, as there were English and Maori versions, not altogether compatible. In the English version Sovereignty was ceded by the Chiefs, but in the Maori version the lesser concept of Governance was ceded. However in International Law the Maori version takes precedence, although this has not yet been accepted by any government.

It is often a day of controversy as Maori engage the Government in debate (often by organised protest) about the fact that successive governments have never honoured the Treaty, have ignored it, and even declared it to be a nullity. This present government has recognised it as a founding document. In recent years, as protest escalated, the Government moved the celebrations from Waitangi to Wellington, the capital city. This year they return to Waitangi.

The debate ranges from demands for recompense for economic and other assets illegally or extra-legally expropriated from Maori by governments, to the more difficult question of constitutional law, in which Maori claim that the present Constitutional conventions of Aotearoa/New Zealand breach both the letter and the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi. Government is presently engaged in negotiations with various tribal claimants with a view to making substantial settlements against economic claims. So far, no political party has shown a willingness to listen to the constitutional issues.

However on this Waitangi Day in 1999 Governor General Sir Michael Hardy-Boys, and Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, plus a large contingent of Government ministers and officials, have travelled to Waitangi to listen to the many points of view including those concerning the Constitution. They don't necessarily agree with much of it, but they have listened. It has been a calm Waitangi Day without significant protest and with much goodwill on both sides. It may not always be so, but it is a start.

This is the stuff of democracy as the two major cultures of Aotearoa/New Zealand reach towards constitutional accommodation, a goal which has eluded us for the last 159 years, during most of which our European heritage partner refused even to share in the goal. Even now I think our partner doesn't fully realise that that is the process they are engaged in, but they will - eventually.

Waitangi Day greetings to you all

Ross Himona, Wellington, New Zealand
6th February 1999.